As tempting as early spring is, it is too soon to plant warm season crops outside. We can start them indoors from seeds, though.
First, grab seeds for crops your family will eat and your local food bank needs. Look for varieties that mature in 90 to 120 days. Those dated for this growing season will germinate most reliably.
If you would like to save seeds from this year’s crops to grow in the future, purchase open-pollinated seeds and not hybrid, or F1 hybrid, seeds. All heirlooms are open-pollinated, so their seeds can be saved.
Then, hunt for pots. No matter your pot selection, make sure they are sterile and have drainage holes. Plastic plant 6-packs can be reused for seed-starting after a five-minute soak in a 10 percent bleach solution. Use a tray below the pots to catch drainage water.
Finally, get a quality soilless seed-starting mix. It should be sterile, lightweight and have very fine particles.
Follow the directions on the seed and seed-starting mix packages. In general, press tiny seeds onto the top of moist potting mix, and plant larger seeds to a depth equal to their diameter.
Most seeds do not need light to germinate, but check the seed packet to make sure. Give them warm, moist soil, and they will be happy. Bottom heat can be provided with a seedling heat mat. Or, place your seed-starting trays on top of the fridge. Keep the potting mix consistently moist, and cover your containers with clear plastic to prevent excess moisture loss.
Once your seeds sprout, remove the plastic cover, and place your seedlings where they will receive 12 to 16 hours of light per day. South-facing windows or fluorescent lamps will do the trick. When plants lean to one side, reaching for light, turn them around so they grow straight.
At this point, plants grown in seed-starting mixes free of nutrients will need some. Apply water-soluble house plant fertilizer at one-quarter to one-half strength. After the first few weeks, reapply the fertilizer at full strength every two weeks. Or, lightly topdress your seedlings with quality compost.
Once your seedlings develop their second set of true leaves, transplant them, or thin out the weaker seedlings using scissors to cut stems down to the surface of the potting mix. This way, the remaining vigorous seedlings will not have to compete for water and nutrients.
Plants can also be grown from cuttings taken from existing herbs or vegetable plants. Start with a healthy, well-hydrated plant. Take cuttings using a sharp, sterile blade. Insert cuttings 1 inch deep into high quality soilless potting mix. Keep them moist and warm under indirect light for two to four weeks. Once the plants have established root systems, repot them.
Keep plants from seeds or cuttings inside until it is safe to put them outdoors, hardening them off before planting.